Joyce Centre for Partnership and Innovation

Canada’s largest (and Hamilton’s first) zero carbon institutional building serves as a living lab for students and professionals alike on energy harvesting and conservation technologies and techniques.

Classrooms and laboratories are organized around a large central atrium which acts as a social activator and central hub.

An increasing disconnect shadows public debate. While almost every climate scientist and a goodly percentage of the population believe human-generated climate change is an imminent threat, populist governments led by sceptics and deniers seem on the ascendency. Fortunately, educational institutions like Hamilton’s Mohawk College seem committed to intensifying our applied knowledge of climate change and its impact. Its new Joyce Centre for Partnership and Innovation contains the Centre for Climate Change Management. In addition, to use a time honoured cliché, the Centre walks the talk earning Canada’s first institutional Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) certification from the Canada Green Building Council. The council defines ZCB as a “building that produces on-site, or procures, carbon-free renewable energy in an amount sufficient to offset the annual carbon emissions associated with building operations.”

Designed by B+H Architects in partnership with mcCallumSather, the 96,000-sq. ft. Joyce Centre employs multiple techniques to achieve the zero carbon standard. These include, among others, a high performance envelop, solar photovoltaic panel arrays on the building’s dual, visually defining roof-top wing-blades, 28 geothermal wells reaching depths of 180 metres, a heat pump system and a planted green roof. But being green is about more than envelopes and energy systems

The interior material palette is balanced between robust steel and concrete, and warmer materials such as wood and stone tile, to create a rich and inviting learning environment. All materials were locally sourced.

Its interior design goes a long way to ensuring zero carbon success with attributes like digital motion and daylight sensors controlling the building’s LED lighting. But, as Lisa Bate, Global Sustainability Lead and principal at B+H Architects and Chair of the World Green Building Council (GBC) says, the design also includes elements to ensure the “building performs as an educator.” Indeed, one requirement for certification is regular reporting on Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which gauges in part how individuals are using the building in ways that minimize energy consumption. This means “a cultural shift in thinking for Mohawk College, its staff and students – from free access energy to individual accountability.” On-site outlets for recharging laptops, for example, are limited to force students to manage electrical usage because, as Bate says, “plug loads are the new evil.”

Perhaps most importantly, there is open access to all mechanical areas of the building populated with multiple real-time gauges to permit students to monitor and engage the zero carbon technology. Fourth year students even act as central participants in the building’s management structure. Ceilings are largely open to visually reveal electrical and mechanical structuring. “Students will get hands-on learning in how to operate, monitor and maintain a zero carbon building,” reports the College.

Driven by sunlight, flexible co-working spaces, labs and lecture theatres are centred around a light-filled atrium.

But the Centre also merges these and other green gestures with spatial design to create a collaborative, student-friendly educational facility. Its first level has two major lecture theatres and a cafe bracketing a double-height gallery. Façades of fritted, R30 triple-glazing on two sides of the building, along with a massive light well, spill light not only into this grand public piazza, but also into hallways, classrooms and a second level student commons. Taking a lesson from evidence-based health facility design, this generous glazing provides multiple views to the exterior landscape which stimulates and supports the learning environment.

Despite flashes of very bright colours signaling breakout rooms or to animate labs, “the Centre has a simplified elegance with refined, natural materials selected with an emphasis on their sustainability performance as well as how and where they are manufactured,” says Dora Lomax, principal at mcCallumSather. Local sourcing is important with the theatre’s structural steel supplied by Hamilton’s Walters Inc. Although the Centre’s Forbo marmoleum flooring was manufactured in the Netherlands, it is a natural, CO2-neutral product made from 43 per cent recycled linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour, limestone, pigments, and jute. A rich natural limestone is used on the floors for major public areas. Riff-cut white oak panelling (all wood is FSC certified) creates dynamically undulating acoustic ceilings animated with LED lighting bars that arc over the gallery, hallways and theatres.

The atrium functions as a social space that encourages formal and informal gatherings.

B+H, championed by Bate, played a central role in promoting supplier buy-in and training on Origin in 2016, a free, cloud-based green materials database now part of GBC’s Arc platform. The architects, therefore, were able use Origin to rate the environmental impact of over 85,000 products worldwide. Such tracking forms a core part of determining the building’s performance, as embedded emission measurements using life-cycle assessment (LCA) software is another reporting requirement of zero carbon certification.

Beyond its green credentials, the Joyce Centre feels akin to current hi-tech office/lab design, both in its casual, transparent and light-infused interior connected by open staircases as well as the high adaptability of its spaces. Comfortable, informal spaces serve as both chill-out and work spaces. Both classrooms and labs, says Bate, are highly flexible with modular furniture and plug and play capabilities to permit different types of collaborative interaction or more classroom style core learning.

Sceptics beware; the Joyce Centre makes sustainability not painful but a catalyst for empowering, people-oriented design.

Photography by Ema Peter